I’m still trying to piece together how I feel about Todd Haynes’ lesbian period piece, Carol.
On one hand, it’s a series of gorgeous moving paintings occupied by nuanced performances. On the other, it feels stifled and acted. The entire time, I was very aware that I was watching it in 2016 and that I wasn’t really watching two real people’s lives, but two actors attempting to portray that.
The sets are gorgeous, complemented and thoroughly explored by roving camerawork. There’s an overall grayish feel to New York City in the winter in the 1950s, where the luscious grays and reds of Christmastime seem to pop right off the walls. There’s one particularly beautiful scene of Rooney Mara looking out a fogged car window that sticks out to me, perhaps because they flash back to it throughout the course of the film. I appreciated Todd Haynes’ direction in that most of the time the camera kept its distance from the two, which comes off as respectful rather than exploitative.
This is a film that is nearly entirely dependent on its acting. And I’m particularly conflicted about Cate Blanchett’s performance. It seemed, at times that I was watching an actress on a stage, overcompensating and over-projecting to ensure that her performance came across to the back row. Rooney Mara, however, played a much more subtle character, fueled by nervous glances and jumpy excitement. I preferred her performance to Blanchett’s as it felt much more real. This isn’t to say that Blanchett is not a talented actress and didn’t fit this role. It’s half the period piece thing, half the lesbian thing that made me very aware that she was playing a character the whole time.
Overall, I think it’s fantastic that a film focusing on the experience of queer women is at the forefront of Oscar buzz. I’m just not so sure I want it to be this film.